The more I read and talk with teachers and schools the more evident it is that educators have been pushed to their absolute limit during the pandemic. This time of year is always a mix of fatigue from the school and relief that the days are getting longer and the summer hiatus is around the corner. But this year is of course different. Teacher retirement has increased and “We are seeing some of the same psychological effects from teachers as we saw from frontline health care workers.”
Last week I was invited by a super creative charter school to join their biweekly staff professional development. The training, which was skillfully led by the school’s counselor, was focused on trauma informed pedagogy. As we reviewed statics and data on student and teacher wellbeing it became crystal clear that in the fall we will have to not only address student COVID Slide and teacher burnout but also the psychological wellbeing of everyone on campus. However, my biggest takeaway from this school’s training was their sense of relief. Even though the stats were grim it seemed that this was one of the first times they looked forward to the fall rather than responding in the moment to put out COVID fires.
I believe we have collectively turned a corner, or sorts, as we begin to assess the impact of the pandemic on teaching and learning and make plans to address those losses in the fall. In the same conversations I have that highlight COVID fatigue, I am noticing an optimism as we look to the future. We are seeing the light at the end of the COVID tunnel and feeling optimistic about the future.
Two weeks ago I was working with another super creative school. I have been so impressed by the ingenuity of some schools during distance learning. The principal of this PreK-8 school was sharing what worked for his staff and what struck me was that they put plans in place that will translate to in-person instruction in the fall. For example, peer observation. Watching your colleagues is one of the best PD’s teachers can experience. Yet most classrooms are silos, with teachers rarely getting the opportunity to observe their colleagues in action. This school decided to change that during the pandemic and this principal hired substitute teachers to cover classes so that his teachers could observe one another. I had never thought about a zoom sub before this conversation. His teachers would join a colleague’s Zoom meeting and observe. He shared with me that some of his veteran teachers, those staff members who were experiencing the most fatigue from virtual instruction, were inspired and energized as they gleaned virtual teaching strategies from their colleagues. His team is asking that the school continue this practice when they go back to in-person instruction in the fall.
Overall, the statistics from COVID are overwhelming and we will have to address widening equity and learning gaps and bolster teachers against burnout as we plan for the fall. With that said, there is so much to share that has worked and if we share we can collectively learn from it and get better as we had back to school in the fall.
I am writing this article with one goal, to hear from you and your colleagues about what worked during the pandemic. Please share what has worked for you and the students you serve in the comments below. Thanks in advance!